Triangle Transit gave its public a virtual view of the planned light-rail line between Durham and Chapel Hill in three project update sessions last week.
Video monitors played simulations of flying over the route from UNC Hospitals to Alston Avenue, with project consultants and Triangle Transit staff on hand to answer questions and change the views from overhead to track level, and from the tracks to their surroundings as they might appear when the line is built.
“I wish everybody in my (neighborhood) association could see this,” said Durham resident Don Lebkes. “Fantastic.”
Display boards provided information both general, such as comparisons of light rail with other forms of mass transit, and detailed, such as alternatives for routing tracks through or past envinronmentally sensitive places. The “fly-through” video and other information from the meetings were to be posted on the project website, bit.ly/b3k21k, by the end of last week.
The meetings were part of an environmental-impact “scoping” process required of transit projects applying for federal grants.
“We do have the potential to have a significant impact on the environment,” said Jeff Weisner with the Morrisville engineering consultants URS Corp.
That impact, he said, includes effects on streams and wetlands and the life they support, as well as those on human communities such as noise and “equity.”
“Are we going to be serving all our populations equally?” he said.
The three update sessions were meant to reach three different populations, with one held in downtown Durham, one in the suburbs between the cities and one in Chapel Hill.
“I’m backing it,” said Durham resident Stan Bukowski. “I welcome this. It’s tying everything together.”
The planned light-rail route goes from UNC Hospitals to East Durham by way of the Friday Center, the Interstate 40 corridor, the Patterson Place and South Square areas, Duke Medical Center and downtown Durham with 17 stations planned and four-car trains running at five-minute intervals.
Some of those at the updates told transit planners they thought buses were a better vehicle than light rail, said consultant Gavin Poindexter, but most comments and questions had to do with the line’s effects on their own lives day to day: access, street blocking, whether it would be useful to them.
“Trying to understand what it would mean,” Poindexter said.
Resident Helen Fischer said the rail service will appeal to residents moving to Durham and Chapel Hill from cities where public transit is established and heavily used.
“People moving to the area are thinking about public transit, and maybe giving up their cars,” she said.
Weisner said a draft environmental-impact report should be ready for public comment by the end of 2014, with a final draft for the Federal Transit Administration a year later.
According to Triangle Transit’s timeline, construction could start in 2019 with completion by 2026.
“This is for our grandchildren,” Lebkes said.